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Melancholy Painter
"Statesman", Jan. 1957

“There are 50.000 painters in Paris.” she said. “Five of them are famous, 500 earn a living by painting and the rest starve. The Indian painters in Paris belong to the last category, they have a very hard struggle to live.”

To which category did she belong? I asked Soshana Afroyim who had surrounded herself with scores of photographs of her paintings in her hotel room in New Delhi yesterday afternoon. The Viennese-born painter hesitated a moment before replying: “I’m too young. A painter needs time to win recognition. A writer can become famous by writing one book but a painter cannot do so.”

Soshana the artist makes a interesting study. In the competitive world of today the artist - much the same as anybody else - has to peddle his goods. Soshana realized this fact when she went to live in Paris five years ago.

For five years she has been painting in the studio once used by Gauguin. The results of her activity - photographs of which I saw yesterday - reveal a melancholic temperament. She is a prophet of doom - atomic warfare, loneliness and unemployment are her themes.

Soshana paints in the expressionistic manner. To her the dividing line between realistic and abstract work does not exist. “Realistic and abstract paintings are the same thing”, she declared. “What matters is that a painting should be good. I combine the two in my work. Realistic and abstract work are two ways of knowing the world through our limited senses.”

Working at such an intensive pitch gave Soshana a longing to savour a world in which time did not matter and she came to India to find peace and tranquillity. She told me yesterday that she had tested both in abundant measure during her fortnight’s stay in this country and, from the professional point of view, she has found in India colours she had not dreamt of before.

Soshana thinks its a pity for Indian painters to go to live in Paris. “Their creations should flow from an Indian background. In Paris no artist can escape French art. It is no use either copying the wonderful pieces of sculpture and art the ancient Indians produced because the modern artist’s work would no longer be creative. We live in very different times.”

Soshana told me that she thought the Government of India should do more to encourage artists in this country and she was critical of its method of commissioning works of art. “All great art springs from within,” she declared. “You can’t ask a painter to paint in a certain manner. Here, I understand, the Government asks for designs and then chooses one of them, usually the wrong one. Under those circumstances art can no longer be creative.”

During the fifteen years Soshana has been painting - in the USA, the U.K., Cuba and Paris - she has won praise from the critics. Pierre Descargues said she paints “with a unique passion and violence”.

Recognition from art galleries too has come to her in a fair measure. Her canvases hang in the Museum of Modern Art in Paris and in museums in the USA, in Italy and Switzerland. She leaves soon for Peking where her paintings will be on display. Another collection of her work is also being exhibited at the same time in New York.

Soshana Afroyim yesterday in Delhi. - Statesman